"Birds are affected by the same environmental processes, such as rainfall, that drive the timing of flowering and fruiting, of crops and insects," he said.

Some of the work connecting these dots occurs in collaboration with other colleagues who track bird and animal species through the Movement Ecology Group of the Environmental Resilience Institute at IU. For example, the birds' blood samples will inform the institute's tick monitoring project, which seeks to understand how bug-borne diseases are spreading in the state.

Jahn is also working with another of the institute's fellows, Tara Smiley, to study bird ecology using isotopic analysis. The same method used to detect drugs in human hair can reveal details about birds' movements and diet from a single feather.

Moreover, Jahn said his recruitment under IU's Grand Challenges Program connects him with collaborators beyond biology, including plans to work with students from the O'Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IU Bloomington, as well as biology graduate students.

"This is a real pioneering project in many ways," he said. "While other universities have grand challenges, they aren't commonly focused on environmental change -- or they aren't on the same scale as IU's. We're approaching this topic from so many angles -- not only in terms of biology, but also policy, conservation law, history, art and communications.

"If there's anything we've learned over the past few years, you simply can't tackle an issue as large as a grand challenge without being truly interdisciplinary."